Last updated on: 6/21/2017 | Author:

ACLU Positions on Issues from Abortion to the War on Terror


Click on each bolded question below for a pro/con presentation on the issue.



1. Should “partial-birth” abortion be banned? CON “The ACLU opposes the so-called ‘Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003’… because it outlaws safe abortion procedures and thus threatens women’s health and reproductive rights. Proponents of this bill claim that it will prohibit only a single, ‘late-term’ abortion procedure. But the bill prohibits more than a single procedure; it bans safe and common abortion methods used in the second trimester of pregnancy, well before fetal viability. It also lacks an exception to protect women’s health — a requirement that is constitutionally compelled, as the Supreme Court made clear in its recent ruling in Stenberg v. Carhart.”

“Interested Persons Memo: Ban on Safe Abortion Procedures: The So-Called ‘Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003,'”
June 18, 2003

2. Do mandatory parental involvement laws infringe on minors’ rights and endanger their health?

PRO “There is no evidence that mandating parental involvement actually increases the rate at which teens tell their parents about their pregnancies and planned abortions…

In addition, because mandating parental involvement in a teen’s abortion decision can prevent teens from getting the abortions they want, it can lead to teens suffering the physical, emotional, educational, economic, and social costs of teenage childbearing…

[N]o state requires a young woman to obtain parental consent for prenatal care and delivery services; no state requires parents to be notified of their daughter’s positive pregnancy test; all but five states allow a minor to place her child for adoption without parental involvement… It is only if the teen chooses to have an abortion that states seek to require parental involvement.

[F]orcing young women who cannot turn to their parents to go to court and to reveal the details of their private lives to strangers causes them extraordinary fear, anxiety, and shame…. In addition, going to court and waiting for a decision from a judge can cause substantial delays. These delays not only increase the risk of the procedure, but, because the price of an abortion goes up substantially and fewer physicians provide the service as the pregnancy advances, the delay makes an abortion unobtainable for some teens.”

“Laws Restricting Teenagers’ Access to Abortion,”
Apr. 1, 2001

3. Does the Hyde Amendment, prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortions and allowing health care professionals to refuse to perform abortions, conflict with reproductive rights?

PRO “The Hyde Amendment and other bans should be repealed because they are discriminatory and harm women’s health. If a woman chooses to carry to term, Medicaid (and other federal insurance programs) offer her assistance for the necessary medical care. But if the same woman needs to end her pregnancy, Medicaid (and other federal insurance programs) will not provide coverage for her abortion, even if continuing the pregnancy will harm her health. The government should not discriminate in this way. It should not use its dollars to intrude on a poor woman’s decision whether to carry to term or to terminate her pregnancy and selectively withhold benefits because she seeks to exercise her right of reproductive choice in a manner the government disfavors…

Our tax dollars fund many programs that individual people oppose. For example, those who oppose war on moral or religious grounds pay taxes that are applied to military programs. The congressional bans on abortion funding impose a particular religious or moral viewpoint on those women who rely on government-funded health care. Providing funding for abortion does not encourage or compel women to have abortions, but denying funding compels many women to carry their pregnancies to term. Nondiscriminatory funding would simply place the profoundly personal decision about how to treat a pregnancy back where it belongs – in the hands of the woman who must live with the consequences of that decision.”

“Public Funding for Abortion,”
July 21, 2004

4. Does the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (UVVA), protecting fetal rights, threaten abortion rights? PRO “The ACLU fully supports efforts to punish acts of violence against women that harm or terminate a wanted pregnancy. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act is an inappropriate method of imposing such punishment, however, because it dangerously seeks to separate the woman from her fetus in the eyes of the law…

By creating a separate offense for injury to a fetus, this bill attempts to endow the fetus with legal rights distinct from the woman who has been injured. This legislation would thus dramatically alter the existing legal framework by elevating the fetus to an unprecedented status in federal law…

This bill ignores the unity between the pregnant woman and the fetus she carries. Penalty enhancements appropriately punish criminal behavior while embracing that unity.”


“Interested Persons Memo on Attempts to Create Fetal Rights: The Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2003 (S. 1019, S. 146, H.R. 1997),”
June 17, 2003

Birth Control
5. Does abstinence-only education work?
CON “There is no conclusive evidence that abstinence-only sex education, which teaches students to abstain from sex until married and generally only teaches about contraceptive failure, reduces the rate of unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Moreover, research indicates that many of these programs do not help teens delay having sex…
On the other hand, evidence shows that comprehensive sexuality education programs that provide information about abstinence and contraception can help delay the start of sexual activity in teenagers and increase condom use among sexually active teens. Yet there is currently no federal program dedicated to supporting comprehensive sexuality education.”


“What the Research Shows: Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Sex Education Does Not Protect Teenagers’ Health”
Dec. 1, 2004

6. Should employers be required to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptive services and supplies?

PRO “Currently, women are forced to bear a heavier financial burden for health care than men primarily because many health care insurance providers refuse to cover contraceptives. Studies have shown that women of reproductive age often pay 68 percent more out-of-pocket for health care than men, in large part because of the failure of health plans to cover contraception. Given this inequity, both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a federal district court in Washington state (Erickson v. Bartell Drug Co.) concluded that excluding coverage for prescription drugs that are used overwhelmingly by women — such as contraception — constitutes unlawful sex discrimination.

Moreover, providing insurance coverage for contraceptives is sound health-care policy. The elimination of financial barriers to effective contraceptive services will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, and ultimately, the number of abortions. In addition, improved access to contraception will allow more women to control the timing of their pregnancies. This, in turn, helps reduce infant mortality, low birth weight, and maternal health complications during pregnancy.”

“Urging Members of the House Education and Workforce Committee to Support the Holt-McCollum Contraceptive Equity Amendment to H.R. 525, the ‘Small Business Health Fairness Act,'”
Mar. 16, 2005

7. Should health care workers be required to offer emergency contraceptives (aka Plan B or the “morning after pill”) to victims of sexual assault?
PRO “The American Civil Liberties Union today… [supports] legislation that would require hospitals that receive federal funds to provide emergency contraception to survivors of sexual assault, care that the ACLU said is essential to protect against unwanted pregnancies and to ensure reproductive freedom for rape survivors…
Emergency contraception, also known as post-coital contraception or – somewhat misleadingly – the ‘morning after’ pill, has been proven highly effective in preventing unintended pregnancy when taken no more than 72 hours after unprotected intercourse…
[P]assage of this bill is so crucial because, currently, survivors of sexual assault who are not offered emergency contraception during their initial treatment at the hospital must either obtain it directly from an outside doctor or obtain a prescription and then find a pharmacy – a process that can often take more than 72 hours.”

“ACLU Strongly Supports Emergency Contraception for Sexual Assault Victims; Calls It Crucial Component of Effective Health Care for Women,”
Mar. 21, 2002

8. Would mandatory parental notification laws regarding contraceptive prescriptions negatively affect teenage girls’ health?

PRO “Studies show that preventing teens from getting contraceptives unless they tell a parent won’t stop teenagers from having sex. It will just drive them away from the services they need to protect themselves, leading to higher rates of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV…

Some people say that allowing teenagers to get contraceptives without first telling a parent encourages them to become sexually active… But research about how teenagers behave flatly contradicts this theory…

Cutting off teenagers’ access to contraceptives… just drives them out of doctors’ offices. When teenagers don’t visit family planning providers, not only do they forego contraceptive services, they also miss or dangerously postpone screening and treatment for STDs, routine gynecological exams, and other vital health care services…”

“Preventing Teenagers from Getting Contraceptives Unless They Tell a Parent Puts Teens at Risk,”
July 18, 2003

Death Penalty
9. Should the death penalty be abolished?

PRO “The American Civil Liberties Union believes the death penalty inherently violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process of law and of equal protection under the law. Furthermore, we hold that the state should not arrogate unto itself the right to kill human beings – especially when it kills with premeditation and ceremony, in the name of the law or in the name of its people, or when it does so in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion.

Capital punishment is an intolerable denial of civil liberties, and is inconsistent with the fundamental values of our democratic system. Therefore, through litigation, legislation, commutation and by helping to foster a renewed public outcry against this barbarous and brutalizing institution, we strive to prevent executions and seek the abolition of capital punishment.”

“The Case Against Death Penalty,”
Dec. 31, 1997

10. Is the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) a good law?

PRO “The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) represents the most comprehensive civil rights law in a generation. Based on Congress’ finding that people with disabilities have been ‘subjected to a history of purposeful unequal treatment, and relegated to a position of political powerlessness,’ its purpose is to extend to people with disabilities the same legal protections against discrimination available to women and racial and religious minorities under the 1964 Civil Rights Act…

Under the protection of the ADA, millions of disabled people can now seek legal recourse. A 1996 study by the United Cerebral Palsy Association showed that 96% of a sample of disabled Americans surveyed said the ADA had made a positive difference in their lives.”

“ACLU Briefing Paper #21 on Disability Rights,”
Feb. 28, 2002

DNA Database
11. Should employers and insurance companies be allowed to gain access to our genetic information?

CON “The ACLU supports [the future Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)] because it meaningfully addresses the serious threat to civil liberties posed by new genetic technology. It prohibits genetic discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring and compensation. It prohibits insurers from restricting enrollment or adjusting fees on the basis of genetic information. And it prohibits both insurers and employers from requiring genetic testing…

It has been suggested… that… the Americans with Disabilities Act (‘ADA’) already prohibits employment discrimination based on genetic information…. Unfortunately a series of court decisions… has narrowly defined the term ‘disability’ … and has thereby limited the scope of ADA protections.

Individuals who are symptomatic but not disabled can no longer rely on the protection of the ADA, and individuals with a genetic predisposition to an illness that has not yet manifested itself are also likely to fall outside the ADA’s protected class.”

“Statement of Legislative Consultant Ron Weich on Genetic Privacy and Non-Discrimination for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee,”
July 25, 2001

12. Should the government be allowed to collect DNA samples from non-violent and non-convicted offenders? CON “H.R. 3214 would expand the definition of ‘qualifying federal offenses’ … [and] permit the inclusion of records from states that seize DNA profiles from their residents who have not even been convicted of crimes — people who are innocent under our system of government. States such as California and Louisiana already have statutes that would allow for the collection of DNA profiles of persons arrested, but not necessarily convicted of crimes… This broad inclusion of records will change the character of CODIS from a system that is somewhat narrowly tailored for forensic purposes to a system that gathers personal information about innocent people just in case they someday commit a crime.”

“Letter to the House Judiciary Committee Expressing Concerns About HR3214, the Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act of 2003,”
Oct. 8, 2003

Free Speech
13. What is free speech?

The First Amendment of the US Constitution states in part: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

14. Does regulating access to pornographic content on the Internet to protect minors infringe on the First Amendment rights of adults?

PRO “In its attempt to deny minors access to certain speech on the Internet, [Child Online Protection Act] COPA criminalizes a wide range of speech that is unquestionably protected for adults…

I certainly agree that many parents believe that online porn is a threat, and deserve workable solutions. The ACLU has argued that there are more effective solutions than criminal laws like COPA, that include voluntary use of filtering programs in the home, and better education for parents and kids so that kids don’t inadvertently encounter inappropriate material online…

[O]nline there is no way to keep minors from viewing speech without denying access to most adults as well. That makes the web environment totally different than the convenience stores. It is precisely that distinction that led all nine justices of the Supreme Court to strike down Congress’ first attempt to criminalize ‘indecent’ speech online.”

Ann Beason, ACLU Associate Legal Director
“Live Online Discussion,”
Washington Post
Oct. 14, 2003

15. Would amending the US Constitution to prohibit the desecration of the US flag limit free speech?

PRO “This amendment is injurious to one of the very freedoms the flag symbolizes: free speech. It directly empowers the Congress to engage in thought control. There is a distinct difference between real and forced patriotism. Flag burning and desecration is offensive because it is political. Experience shows that the way to fight political expression with which one disagrees is not to outlaw it, but to express disapproval…

This amendment would be the beginning, not the end, of the question of how to regulate a certain form of expression. It empowers Congress to begin the task of defining what the ‘flag’ and ‘desecration’ mean. The use of the flag as symbol is ubiquitous, from commerce, to art, to memorials, such that Congress would be in the position of defining broad rules for specific applications.”

“Reasons to Oppose the Flag Desecration Amendment,”
Mar. 4, 2004

16. Is the ACLU justified in claiming that limits on political campaign contributions and expenditures compromise free speech?

PRO “[T]he McCain-Feingold bill… and its Shays-Meehan counterpart… are a recipe for political repression because they egregiously violate longstanding rights of free speech and freedom of association…

Under the reasoning of Buckley v. Valeo… the funding of any public speech that falls short of… ‘express advocacy’ is wholly immune from campaign finance laws. Speech which comments on, criticizes or praises, applauds or condemns the public records and actions of public officials and political candidates… is entirely protected by the First Amendment…. Contributions to issue advocacy campaigns cannot be limited in any way.

The bills unconstitutionally interfere with the first amendment rights of political parties… The justification for these limitations are the very similar ones used to restrict issue advocacy and, in fact, make it virtually impossible for parties to continue to engage in issue advocacy work such as grassroots educational activity, platform development, candidate recruitment and get-out-the-vote efforts.

“Testimony Before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitutional Issues of Campaign Finance Reform Legislation,”
June 12, 2001

17. Has welfare reform helped poor women improve their lives?

PRO “Many jobs held by TANF recipients, the vast majority of whom are women, will never lift a family out of poverty because the wages from these jobs are simply insufficient to support recipients’ families. Studies indicate that caseworkers typically steer TANF recipients into jobs traditionally held by women, which generally pay the lowest wages… Such occupational segregation is a primary cause of the wage gap between men and women…

Access to education and training, however, is both effective and essential for TANF recipients to move out of low-wage, gender-segregated jobs into this higher-wage employment with career advancement potential… This is the wrong choice for women and their families…”

“Welfare Reform Reauthorization Proposals,”
Feb. 24, 2005

18. Is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) a good law? PRO “VAWA is one of the most effective pieces of legislation enacted to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It has dramatically improved the law enforcement response to violence against women and has provided critical services necessary to support women and children in their struggle to overcome abusive situations.”

“Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, S. 1197,”
July 27, 2005

19. Is Title IX, the law protecting against discrimination based on sex, a good law?

PRO “Title IX has played a vital role in opening doors for girls and women over the past thirty years… Title IX was designed to be a strong, comprehensive measure that addresses the many forms of sex discrimination in education… Title IX ended these discriminatory practices in vocational schools, professional schools, and coeducational colleges and universities…

Title IX has also made a profound impact in the area of athletics. In 1971, fewer than 300,000 high school girls participated in interscholastic sports, and by 1997, that number had grown to over 2.4 million. This development is important not merely because female students have more opportunities, but also because athletic involvement during school leads to benefits in health and education.

[B]y opening the doors to educational opportunities, and rejecting sex segregation and disparate treatment in favor of inclusion and equality, Title IX has allowed enormous advances for women and girls.”

“Letter to the Department of Education on Single-Sex Proposed Regulations Comments,”
Apr. 23, 2004

20. Should HIV testing for pregnant women be mandatory?
CON “Proposals for mandatory HIV testing of vulnerable populations have always met strong resistance from defenders of privacy. Testing people against their will and then telling them their HIV status is hardly the best way to offer effective treatment or persuade people to take steps to reduce the risks of transmission to others…
[I]f the state has the power to force a test, does it have the power as well to force unwanted treatment? What about taking away a parent’s right to decide the treatment for her child? Mandatory testing of pregnant women can only make sense when the state is willing to do all three, because without the treatment, testing may be a hollow gesture…
The science can make a compelling case that early testing of pregnant women, with counseling about the benefits of treatment, is a very good idea. But it’s not so compelling that the tests should be mandatory… [I]ntervention without the cooperation of women throughout the course of treatment and care for the child will not help reduce transmission, and is likely only to worsen womens’ trust in the health care they do receive.”

“The ACLU on HIV Testing of Pregnant Women and Newborns,”
Jan. 1, 2001

Hate and Offensive Speech
21. Do hate crimes laws often violate the right to free speech?

CON “The ACLU appreciates the… inclusion of the new evidentiary provision that prevents the hate crimes legislation from having any potentially chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech…. It will reduce or eliminate the possibility that the federal government could obtain a criminal conviction on the basis of evidence of speech that had no role in the chain of events that led to any alleged violent act proscribed by the statute…

On its face the hate crime bill punishes only the conduct of intentionally selecting another person for violence because of that person’s race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability…

The evidentiary provision… will bar only evidence that had no specific relationship to the underlying violent offense… Thus, [it] will not bar all expressions or associations of the accused. It is a prophylactic provision that is precisely tailored to protect free speech.”

“Letter in Support of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2005,”
May 25, 2005

22. Do university regulations against offensive speech often inhibit freedom of expression?

PRO “The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content. Speech codes adopted by government-financed state colleges and universities amount to government censorship, in violation of the Constitution. And the ACLU believes that all campuses should adhere to First Amendment principles because academic freedom is a bedrock of education in a free society…

Where racist, sexist and homophobic speech is concerned, the ACLU believes that more speech — not less — is the best revenge. This is particularly true at universities, whose mission is to facilitate learning through open debate and study, and to enlighten. Speech codes are not the way to go on campuses, where all views are entitled to be heard, explored, supported or refuted…”

“Hate Speech on Campus,”
Dec. 31, 1994

23. Is illegal immigration an economic burden to America?

CON “Blaming immigrants for the nation’s woes has long been an American pastime, especially in hard economic times like today. Recently, there has been an upsurge in anti-immigrant sentiment, particularly in areas of the country that host large number of immigrants. Public opinion surveys indicate that the public does draw a distinction between legal and undocumented immigrants, and that the public regards undocumented immigrants with increasing disfavor.

One of the most well-entrenched myths about immigrants is that they steal jobs from American workers, collect an excess of government benefits and in general represent a drain on the economy. Contrary to popular belief, immigrants do not take away jobs from American workers. Instead, they create new jobs by forming new businesses, spending their incomes on American goods and services, paying taxes and raising the productivity of U.S. businesses. Immigrants are good for the economy, not the other way around.”

“Immigrants and the Economy,”
Mar. 12, 2002

24. Does the Real ID Act unfairly target immigrants?

PRO “Proponents are selling the Real ID Act as a fix to the immigration system, when it actually makes thing worse,’ said Timothy H. Edgar, ACLU Policy Counsel for National Security. ‘Sadly, Congress did not take the time to carefully consider and review its provisions – if it had, lawmakers would see that the Real ID Act not only denies the persecuted safe haven here, but it would place undue burdens on legal permanent residents and citizens alike…

The act goes against international law and allows government officials to demand written ‘corroboration’ from those seeking asylum. For instance, a Chinese woman seeking asylum after being forced to have an abortion could be required to obtain proof of her abuse from the doctors who performed the procedure.

Additionally, the Real ID Act would waive all state and federal laws to give the Department of Homeland Security unconditional authority to build barriers along the entire border — placing private property in the hands of federal agents for a ‘land grab’ for national security purposes.”

“ACLU Urges Conferees to Remove ‘Real ID’ From Funding Measure; Proposal Attacks the Persecuted, Harms Immigrants,”
Apr. 26, 2005

Physician-Assisted Suicide
25. Should physician-assisted suicide be legal?

PRO “The right of a competent, terminally ill person to avoid excruciating pain and embrace a timely and dignified death bears the sanction of history and is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty. The exercise of this right is as central to personal autonomy and bodily integrity as rights safeguarded by this Court’s decisions relating to marriage, family relationships, procreation, contraception, child rearing and the refusal or termination of life-saving medical treatment. In particular, this Court’s recent decisions concerning the right to refuse medical treatment and the right to abortion instruct that a mentally competent, terminally ill person has a protected liberty interest in choosing to end intolerable suffering by bringing about his or her own death.

A state’s categorical ban on physician assistance to suicide — as applied to competent, terminally ill patients who wish to avoid unendurable pain and hasten inevitable death — substantially interferes with this protected liberty interest and cannot be sustained.”

“Vacco v. Quill Amicus Brief,”

26. Should prostitution be decriminalized? PRO “The ACLU reaffirms its policy favoring removal of criminal penalties for prostitution and in support of total sexual freedom among consenting adults in private.”

“Policy 211,”
Fax to
Apr. 30, 2007

27. Does the US need affirmative action?

PRO “We have come a long way since the Civil Rights Movement, and many Americans feel that the time for affirmative action is over. Opportunities for women and people of color have expanded, and many believe that the unequal conditions that once justified affirmative action no longer exist. Sadly, this is just not true. Millions of Americans continue to experience race and gender barriers in education, contracting and employment. Existing laws help to prevent outright discrimination on the basis of race and gender, but they alone are not enough to create equal opportunities for every American.

Affirmative action programs – including targeted outreach and recruitment efforts, the use of non-traditional criteria for hiring and admissions, after-school and mentorship programs, and training and apprenticeship opportunities – are tailored to fit specific instances where race and gender must be taken into account in order to provide fair and equal access to minorities and women. These programs recognize and strive to correct the barriers that continue to block the paths of many individual Americans, including women, Native Americans, Arab Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans. Affirmative action helps ensure equal access to opportunities and brings our nation closer to the ideal of giving everyone a fair chance. We support affirmative action and other race- and gender-conscious policies as vital tools in the struggle to provide all Americans with equal opportunity, to promote diversity in academic and professional settings, and to give each and every one of us a fair chance to compete.”

“Striving for Equal Opportunity: Why the ACLU Supports Affirmative Action,”
Mar. 21, 2008

28. Is desegregation in public schools still necessary to achieve racial equality?

PRO “So why is it that on [Brown v. Board of Education’s] 50th anniversary, a pall hangs over our celebration of this epochal decision?

It is because noxious racism, while no longer polite to express openly, has become harder to fight because it is now often cloaked in decorous manners and insidious language that do not openly betray ongoing discrimination. It is also due to racial isolation, poverty, unemployment, inadequate health care, and lack of opportunity, all of which serve to hamper the achievements of minority students who are increasingly found in school districts beset with these and other social ills…

The goals of integration and of a more just society that inspired that earlier generation of reformers and civil rights activists continues to this day, as the ACLU fights to preserve the integration remedies that were the result of Brown.”

“50 Years Later: Brown v. Board of Education,”
May 17, 2004

29. Should racial profiling be accepted as a law enforcement practice?

CON “As we have argued repeatedly … racial profiling is in every instance inconsistent with this country’s core constitutional principles of equality and fairness. We have also argued that law enforcement based on general characteristics such as race, religion and national origin, rather than on the observation of an individual’s behavior, is an inefficient and ineffective strategy for ensuring public safety…. Indeed, the findings of numerous studies throughout the country have been so consistent that police officials are starting to recognize that racial profiling, while still practiced broadly, is ineffective and should be rejected…

As was the case with racial profiling during the ‘war on drugs,’ ethnic profiling alienates the communities whose cooperation is essential to the gathering of good intelligence…

Numerous law enforcement officials believe that racial, ethnic, religious or national origin profiling actually poses a national security risk. If you are an airport screener and you believe that every terrorist is going to be Middle Eastern, you are not going to look as hard at people of other ethnicities. In addition, bias based profiling – because of its lack of specificity – wastes resources and ineffectively allocates personnel.”

“Sanctioned Bias: Racial Profiling Since 9/11,”
Feb. 2004

Religion and Government
30. Do religious displays on public property violate the constitution? PRO ““Some people, however, mistakenly use the word ‘public’ when they really mean ‘governmental.’ This can be seen, for example, with Ten Commandments monuments. The right of churches and families to erect such monuments on their own property is constitutionally protected, regardless of whether it is public or private and regardless of whether someone is offended or not. A Christian cross that is fully visible from a public sidewalk is constitutionally protected when placed in front of a church. But if that same cross were moved across the street and placed in front of city hall, it would violate the Constitution. The issue is not ‘religion in the public square’–as the rhetoric misleadingly suggests–but whether the government should be deciding whose sacred texts and symbols should be placed on government property and whose should be rejected.””
“The ACLU and Freedom of Religion and Belief,”
(accessed Feb. 15, 2013
31. Is the principle of separation of church and state mandated by the Constitution? PRO “It is one of the fundamental principles of the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence that the Constitution forbids not only state practices that ‘aid one religion … or prefer one religion over another,’ but also those practices that ‘aid all religions’ and thus endorse or prefer religion over non-religion.”
“The Establishment Clause and the Schools: a Legal Bulletin,”
Mar. 11, 2002
32. Do school vouchers violate the prohibition on government funding of religion by making public money available to private religious schools? PRO “…[W]here voucher funds may be used for sectarian educational purposes, a voucher program could require taxpayers to support instruction in religions that may be contrary to their own. In addition to compromising religious freedom, private school vouchers also threaten the autonomy of religious schools.”

“The National Coalition for Public Education Sign-on Letter to the US Senate Appropriation Committee Urging Opposition to Continued Funding of Private School Voucher Program for the District of Columbia,”
Sep. 20, 2004

Religion in Public Schools
33. Should intelligent design be taught as science in public schools?

CON “Teaching students about religion’s role in world history and culture is proper, but disguising a particular religious belief as science is not,’ said ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walczak. ‘Intelligent design is a Trojan Horse for bringing religious creationism back into public school science classes.’…

The [ACLU argues in the] lawsuit that teaching students about ‘intelligent design’ in public school science classes entangles government with religion and violates the separation of church and state. Of Pandas and People, the alternative book available for students, was authored by advocates of so-called creation science and published by a Christian think-tank that aims to preach ‘the Christian Gospel and understanding of the Bible.’…”

“Pennsylvania Parents File First-Ever Challenge to ‘Intelligent Design’ Instruction in Public Schools,”
Dec. 14, 2004

34. Should public school-sponsored prayer be allowed? CON “Opposition to school-sponsored prayer is a bedrock principle for the American Civil Liberties Union. As national board policy #81(a) states in part: ‘The ACLU believes that any program of religious indoctrination — direct or indirect — in the public schools or by use of public resources is a violation of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state and must be opposed.'”
“Constitutional Amendment on School Prayer or Moment of Silence,”
Mar. 11, 2002
35. Would amending the US Constitution to allow for a moment of silence or voluntary prayer in public school undermine the First Amendment? PRO “[I]f adopted the amendment [allowing school prayer or moment of silence in public schools] would allow public officials, including teachers, to dictate how, when and where school children and others should pray, thus undermining one of the core values of the First Amendment: the complete freedom of religious conscience through the nonestablishment of religion.”

“Constitutional Amendment on School Prayer or Moment of Silence,”
Mar. 11, 2002

Second Amendment
36. Is gun ownership an individual right guaranteed by the Second Amendment? CON “The ACLU agrees with the Supreme Court’s long-standing interpretation of the Second Amendment [as set forth in the 1939 case, U.S. v. Miller] that the individual’s right to bear arms applies only to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia. Except for lawful police and military purposes, the possession of weapons by individuals is not constitutionally protected. Therefore, there is no constitutional impediment to the regulation of firearms.”

“Policy #47,”
Mar. 4, 2002

37. Does the protection of prisoners’ civil rights go too far?

CON “Despite political rhetoric comparing prisons to hotels and resorts, the reality is that most prisons are overcrowded, often dangerous, provide sub-standard medical and mental health care and do nothing to prepare prisoners for when they return to the free world. For the past 30 years, the federal courts provided the last recourse for prisoners right to constitutional conditions of confinement. Now, the power of the federal courts is being restricted. Prisoners right of access to the courts is being limited, as a result, prison conditions will become harsher and more punitive…

The practice of overcrowding cells and subjecting prisoners to unsafe and unsanitary living conditions also continues to exist. The Constitution protects prisoners from cruel and unusual punishment; it is essential that their rights be protected and that inhumane treatment be prevented.”

“Policy Priorities for Prison Reform,”
Jan. 31, 2001

38. Have mandatory minimum sentences been an effective tool in the war on drugs?

CON “Restrictive sentencing guidelines and statutory mandatory minimum sentences have taken away the discretion of judges to tailor sentences to fit the individual circumstances of particular crimes and offenders. Thus the traditional requirement mandated by the Eighth Amendment that punishment maintain some proportion to the crime committed has been abandoned in the name of the ‘war on drugs.’ The result is the sentencing of many non-violent drug offenders to unjustly harsh prison terms where they crowd prisons already filled above capacity…

Adding to this problem is the fact that mandatory minimums, designed with the noble intention of reducing the racial inequalities too often resulting from judicial sentencing discretion, in practice simply shifts discretion from the judge to the prosecutor. Prosecutors retain the power to plea bargain by offering defendants plea agreements that avoid the mandatory penalty. Studies have shown that this discretion results in a disparity in sentencing outcomes based largely on race and quality of defense attorney…
These harsher sentencing guidelines, and the billions of dollars poured into enforcement efforts, the incarceration of offenders, and the building of new prisons each year, have failed to curb drug use, which is still on the rise.”

“Prison Overpopulation & Harsh Sentencing,”
June 15, 2001

39. Should felons be allowed to vote?

PRO “American disfranchisement policies bar over 5 million U.S. citizens – many of whom have fully served their sentences – from the polls in nearly all 50 states. This nation that prides itself on free and fair elections and voting shuts out more citizens from the democratic process than any other nation in the world…

As President Bush said in his 2003 State of the Union address, ‘America is the land of second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.’ We agree.”

“Out of Step with the World: An Analysis of Felony Disfranchisement in the U.S. and Other Democracies,”
May 2006

Sexual Orientation
40. Should gay and lesbian people be restricted from adopting children?
…Social scientists tend to agree that problems with child development are often attributable not to marriage status, but instead to a variety of other factors such as parents’ income and education level. More importantly: none of the studies focusing on the effects of marriage have looked at gay parents. The only studies that compare same-sex parents to heterosexual parents… [had not] found that children in homes with a married mother and father do better than those in homes with gay parents…
Research that compares children raised by heterosexual couples with children raised by same-sex couples simply does not say that a heterosexual family is best for a child. It does say, however, that gay men and lesbians can raise children just as well as their heterosexual counterparts… Some anti-gay activists will misuse the studies on gay parenting to attack the children of gay parents. They do so by turning what is merely a difference into a defect. One study, for example, found that daughters of lesbians are more likely to want to be doctors or astronauts than daughters of heterosexuals. In the mouths of anti-gay activists, this gets called a gender disorder. Another study found that daughters of lesbians are more likely to wear pants and jeans than daughters of heterosexuals. When the activists describe it, this becomes deviant cross-dressing.
It is just not true. Not one credible study has ever found that somebody’s sexual orientation alone makes him or her more likely to provide an unstable home… Time and again mainstream groups have said that gay and lesbian parents are as likely to provide supportive, healthy homes as heterosexual parents… Those who would restrict gay parenting say that gay parents have higher rates of depression, suicide, and domestic violence. This is a deliberate attempt to trick the public and neglects to mention that their information comes from studies of unmarried parents, which don’t tell us anything about the stability of gay families. Studies of gay parents find that gay and heterosexual parents have equal levels of mental health…
There is no connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. All of the legitimate scientific evidence shows that. Only one sham study has reported that there is a connection. It was written by Paul Cameron – a figure much beloved by antigay activists… Cameron has been discredited by, thrown out of, and publicly chastised by numerous professional organizations…
Those who would ban gay people from being parents are quick to reference the gay parenting studies when attacking gay parents and their children… but then these same people turn around to say the studies are completely worthless. In the past 20 years, respected researchers have looked at over 1,000 children and over 500 lesbian and gay parents. All of these studies have been published in peer-reviewed, respected journals, whose standards represent expert consensus on accepted social scientific methods… [I]f we were to accept what these activists say, we would have to dismiss virtually the entire discipline…”

ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project
“Arguments Against Gay Families, and Why They’re Wrong,”
Too High A Price, the Case Against Restricting Gay Parenting

41. Should homosexuals have equal protection rights based on their sexual orientation?
PRO “Despite… advances into the American mainstream… lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people continue to face real discrimination in all areas of life. No federal law prevents a person from being fired or refused a job on the basis of sexual orientation… The struggle for legal equality for LGBT people rests on several fundamental constitutional principles.
Equal protection of the law is guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and reinforced by hundreds of local, state and federal civil rights laws… The ACLU believes the Equal Protection Clause prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation as well. The right to privacy, or ‘the right to be left alone,’ is guaranteed by the Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments… Supreme Court decisions underscore the principle that decisions about intimate relationships are personal and should be left up to the individual…
Most Americans do not realize that many LGBT people who face discrimination — in areas from housing and employment to parenting — have no legal recourse since federal law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBT people… Businesses openly fire LGBT employees, and every year, lesbian and gay Americans are denied jobs and access to housing, hotels and other public accommodations. Many more are forced to hide their lives, deny their families and lie about their loved ones just to get by.
The ACLU believes the best way to redress discrimination is to amend all existing federal, state and local civil rights laws and all existing business and university policies to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

“The Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People,”
Mar. 11, 2002

42. Should public schools allow gay-straight alliances?
PRO “Gay-Straight Alliances, or GSAs, are student-led and student-organized school clubs that aim to create a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment for all youth, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. GSAs provide a supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, as well as those who are perceived by others to be LGBT, are questioning their identity, have LGBT friends or family members, or just care about LGBT issues.
GSAs help students work towards making schools safer for all students through providing support, educating others in their school about LGBT issues, and engaging in political activities… GSAs also allow LGBT and straight students to cooperatively address issues that affect all students, including harassment, discrimination, and bias based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression…
While school administrators sometimes balk at allowing students to start GSAs, federal law guarantees that students have the right to do so. There are two types of clubs in public high schools: curricular clubs… and non-curricular clubs… The federal Equal Access Act says that if a public high school allows students to form non-curricular clubs at all, then it must allow students to form any non-curricular club they want, and the school must treat all non-curricular clubs equally.”

ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project
“Start a Gay-Straight Alliance,”
July 26, 2010

43. Should same-sex marriage be allowed?
PRO “Q. What is the difference between civil unions and marriage? If they are different in name only, why do gays and lesbians need to be ‘married’?

A. While civil unions are a meaningful step toward ending discrimination against gay and lesbian couples, they fall short of true equality by setting up a separate category of rights and protections for gay and lesbian couples. Gay and lesbian Americans serve in the military, keep our communities safe as firefighters and police officers, staff our hospitals, build our cities and pay taxes. Gay and lesbian couples in long-term committed relationships should not be denied legal rights in pensions, health insurance, hospital visitations, and inheritance that other long-term committed couples enjoy. We should end this discrimination.

Q. Hasn’t marriage been traditionally defined as between a man and a woman?
A. Marriage is about commitment, love, sharing, and compromise. It is a private, personal choice that should not be denied to couples just because they are the same sex. Today we look back, almost disbelieving, on the time when many Americans did not tolerate marriage between Catholics and Protestants, between whites and blacks. Unfortunately, our laws continue to deny a basic right to marry to two adults simply because they are gay or lesbian.”

“Frequently Asked Questions about the Federal Marriage Amendment Act and Gay Marriage,”
Feb. 25, 2004

44. Should the US Constitution be amended to prohibit same-sex marriage?
CON “Rather than allow states to decide upon their own definitions of marriage or similar social compacts, the Federal Marriage Amendment would impose a single, discriminatory definition of marriage that all states would be required to follow – regardless of existing state laws…

Marriage is about commitment, love, sharing, and compromise. It is a private, personal choice that should not be denied to couples just because they are the same sex…

We are not asking people to change their religious beliefs… Civil marriage and religious marriage are different. At issue here is civil marriage – a legal institution regulated by the government that grants over 1,000 legal rights and obligations. Every year, at least 40% of heterosexual couples in the United States get married without a church, synagogue, mosque or religious ceremony. The First Amendment protects the right of people of faith to organize themselves according to their own beliefs and traditions, and no law recognizing marriage of lesbian and gay couples will limit the freedom of religions to define marriage as each sees fit.”

“Frequently Asked Questions About the Federal Marriage Amendment and Gay Marriage,”
Feb. 25, 2004

45. Should the USA PATRIOT Act have been made law?
46. Is the USA PATRIOT Act a good law?

CON “While it contains provisions that we support, the American Civil Liberties Union believes that the USA PATRIOT Act gives the Attorney General and federal law enforcement unnecessary and permanent new powers to violate civil liberties that go far beyond the stated goal of fighting international terrorism. These new and unchecked powers could be used against American citizens who are not under criminal investigation, immigrants who are here within our borders legally, and also against those whose First Amendment activities are deemed to be threats to national security by the Attorney General.”

“Letter to the Senate Urging Rejection on the Final Version of the USA PATRIOT Act,”
Oct. 23, 2001

47. Does the Patriot Act provide the government with excessive power to conduct searches, surveillance, and wiretaps of US citizens?

PRO “The USA PATRIOT Act vastly expands the FBI’s authority to monitor people living in the United States. These powers can be used not only against terrorists and spies but also against ordinary, law abiding people – immigrants from Iraq or Italy, dentists from Detroit or Denver, truck drivers from Tampa or Tulsa, painters from Peoria or Pittsburgh. Indeed, the FBI can use these powers to spy on any United States citizen or resident.”

“UNPATRIOTIC ACT: the FBI’s Power to Rifle Through Your Records and Personal Belongings Without Telling You,”
July 2003

48. Does the Patriot Act allow the government to conduct secret searches and access records of individuals held by third parties, without providing sufficient judicial overview?

PRO “[T]he statute makes it clear that an ‘investigation of a United States person’ can be conducted, so long as it is not based solely on activity protected by the First Amendment…

Under the PATRIOT Act, the FBI can obtain records – including library circulation records – merely by specifying to a court that the records are ‘sought for’ an ongoing investigation. That standard (sometimes called a ‘relevance’ standard) is much lower than the standard required by the Fourth Amendment, which ordinarily prohibits the government from conducting intrusive searches unless it has probable cause to believe that the target of the investigation is engaged in criminal activity…

All the government needs to do to conduct a search under Section 215 is ‘specify’ that the records are ‘sought for’ an ongoing terrorism or foreign intelligence investigation. The government need not show that the target of the Section 215 order is engaged in terrorism or criminal activity of any kind.”

“Seeking Truth From Justice – PATRIOT Propaganda: The Justice Department’s Campaign to Mislead the Public About the USA PATRIOT Act”
July 2003

49. Does the Patriot Act unfairly target minority and immigrant communities?

PRO “In the war on terrorism, the FBI has unfairly targeted minority and immigrant communities with its surveillance and enforcement efforts. The FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) rounded up over a thousand immigrants as ‘special interest’ detainees, holding many of them without charges for months. A ‘Special Registration’ program now requires tens of thousands of Arab and Muslim immigrants to submit to a call-in interview from which other immigrants are exempted.”

“UNPATRIOTIC ACT: the FBI’s Power to Rifle Through Your Records and Personal Belongings Without Telling You,”
July 2003

Voting Rights
50. Is the Voting Rights Act still necessary?

PRO “[T]he Voting Rights Act of 1965 was designed to make the right to vote a reality for all Americans. And the Voting Rights Act has made giant strides toward that goal. Without exaggeration, it has been one of the most effective civil rights laws passed by Congress…

Equal opportunity in voting still does not exist in many places. Discrimination on the basis of race still denies many Americans their basic democratic rights. Although such discrimination today is more subtle than it used to be, it must still be remedied to ensure the healthy functioning of our democracy… It is the obligation of the government to see that the constitutionally protected right to vote is guaranteed. This is what the Voting Rights Act is designed to do.”

“ACLU Voting Rights – About the VRA,”
Mar. 7, 2006

War on Drugs
51. Do current drug laws and policies discriminate against minorities and women?

PRO “Federal and state drug laws and policies over the past twenty years have had specific, devastating, and disparate effects on women, and particularly women of color and low income women… Between 1986 and 1999, the number of women incarcerated in state facilities for drug related offenses increased by 888%, surpassing the rate of growth in the number of men imprisoned for similar crimes…

Even when they have minimal or no involvement whatsoever in the drug trade, women are increasingly caught in the ever widening net cast by current drug laws through provisions such as conspiracy, accomplice liability and constructive possession, that expand criminal liability to reach partners, relatives, and bystanders…

Moreover, existing sentencing policies, particularly mandatory minimum laws, often subject women to the same, or in some cases, harsher sentences than the principals in the drug trade who are ostensibly the target of those policies… Communities targeted by current drug laws and policies lose mothers, caregivers and workers as a result of women’s incarceration, leading to serious effects on the well-being of children and families.”

“Caught in The Net: The Impact of Drug Policies on Women And Families,”
Mar. 22, 2005

52. Should illegal drugs be legalized?

PRO “The best evidence of prohibition’s failure is the government’s current war on drugs. This war, instead of employing a strategy of prevention, research, education and social programs designed to address problems such as permanent poverty, long term unemployment and deteriorating living conditions in our inner cities, has employed a strategy of law enforcement. While this military approach continues to devour billions of tax dollars and sends tens of thousands of people to prison, illegal drug trafficking thrives, violence escalates and drug abuse continues to debilitate lives…

Those who benefit the most from prohibition are organized crime barons, who derive an estimated $10 to $50 billion a year from the illegal drug trade. Indeed, the criminal drug laws protect drug traffickers from taxation, regulation and quality control…

In the same way that alcohol prohibition fueled violent gangsterism in the 1920s, today’s drug prohibition has spawned a culture of drive-by shootings and other gun-related crimes… The recent steep climb in our incarceration rate has made the U.S. the world’s leading jailer… Nonviolent drug offenders make up 58 percent of the federal prison population, a population that is extremely costly to maintain…

Some people, hearing the words ‘drug legalization,’ imagine pushers on street corners passing out cocaine to anyone — even children. But that is what exists today under prohibition… In the long run, ending prohibition could foster the redirection of public resources toward social development, legitimate economic opportunities and effective treatment, thus enhancing the safety, health and well-being of the entire society.”

“Against Drug Prohibition,”
Jan. 6, 1995

53. Should incarceration be substituted with treatment for drug offenders?

PRO “If harsh sanctions could win the drug war, then the war would be over in New York. Instead, the percentage of inmates incarcerated for drug offenses has increased dramatically from about 11% in 1980 to over 44% in 1999, and the annual cost of incarcerating these offenders is estimated at over $710 million. Our law enforcement and justice systems, too, are heavily burdened with low-level drug offenders.

Treatment… is increasingly regarded as a more effective, and much more cost effective, way to curb drug abuse. As science continues to advance our understanding of the physiology of addiction, treatment methods will almost certainly increase in effectiveness. Treatment on demand and education is a front on which we can wage a successful campaign to combat the misuse of drugs. As long as the punitive, and ineffective, provisions of the Rockefeller drug laws stand between individuals and meaningful treatment, the illegal drug trade will continue to flourish.”

“Rockefeller Drug Laws,”

War on Terror
54. What are National Security Letters (NSLs)?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) General Counsel, in a Nov. 28, 2001 memo to all FBI field offices, explained the purpose and use of the National Security Letters (NSL) as follows: “NSLs are administrative subpoenas that can be used to obtain several types of records. There are three types of NSLS. First, pursuant to the Electronic communications Privacy Act (ECPA)… the FBI can issues NSLS for: (1) telephone subscriber information (limited to name, address, and length of service); (2) telephone local and long distance toll billing records; and (3) electronic communication transactional records. Second, pursuant to the Right to Financial Privacy Act (RFPA)… the FBI can issue NSLs to obtain financial records from banks and other financial institutions. Finally pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)… the FBI can issue NSLs to obtain consumer identifying information and the identity of financial institutions from credit bureaus…

[FBI’s] Foreign Intelligence Collection and Foreign Counterintelligence investigations (FCIG)… provide that an NSL can be issued during the course of a full international terrorism or foreign counterintelligence investigation. NSLs cannot be used in criminal investigations unrelated to international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities. [Bold in original text]…

NSLs are powerful investigative tools, in that they can compel the production of substantial amounts of relevant information. However, they must be used judiciously. The USA PATRIOT Act greatly broadened the FBI’s authority to gather this information… Executive Order 12333 and the FCIG require that the FBI accomplish its investigations through the ‘least intrusive’ means… The greater availability of NSLs does not mean that they should be used in every case.”

55. Do National Security Letters give excessive surveillance power to the government?

PRO “National Security Letters (NSLs) allow the FBI to obtain certain kinds of sensitive personal records without obtaining any kind of court order… The absence of judicial oversight means that, when it comes to the use of NSLs, the FBI has a free hand…

Before the PATRIOT Act became law in October 2001, the FBI could issue an NSL against you only if it had reason to believe that you were a foreign spy. Now, however, the FBI can issue an NSL against you even if it knows you are completely innocent of any such activity. The only requirement is that the NSL be ‘sought for’ an ongoing investigation…

Does it really serve national security to allow the FBI to engage in such aggressive surveillance – including surveillance of ordinary, law-abiding Americans – without any judicial oversight whatsoever?”

“Unpatriotic Acts,”
July 2003

56. Does the no-fly list make us safer?

CON “The [no-fly] lists contain names that are not linked to a physical description, birth date, or other unique identifier that allows airlines to easily determine whether the passenger at the counter is the person on the list. Large numbers of people have been delayed, searched, or interrogated at airports because they are ‘false positives’ who have names that are the same or similar to names on the list…

The ACLU believes that the entire system of watch lists is unconstitutional, because it treats people as guilty without a trial, and deprives them of their freedoms without due process. The system will not make us safer, because it is an inherently inaccurate and ineffective security method.”

“Frequently Asked Questions About the ‘No Fly List,'”
Oct. 26, 2005